Home News Local News The Record vault: Top local stories of 2017 Part 1

The Record vault: Top local stories of 2017 Part 1


Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The following is part one of a two-part series of some stories that made headlines in the Roswell Daily Record in 2017.


Sears closes

The Roswell Sears store would have turned 60 years old on Feb. 7, but closed shortly thereafter.

The 57,334-square-foot department store opened at 1000 S. Main St. on Feb. 7, 1957, with 200 employees, and closed this spring. Employees speculated a total of 20 people worked at the store when it closed.

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The “Upcoming Store Closures” document on file from Sears Holdings announced the closing of a total of 108 Kmart stores and 42 Sears stores nationwide that occurred this spring.

Missing money discovered

Personnel records of Elaine Mayfield indicate envelopes, bank bags and folders of unaccounted money totaling nearly $10,000 was discovered in the office of the city’s former zoo director, although the city found no cause to fire Mayfield, but did reprimand her.

Supporters of Mayfield, a 32-year city employee, said Thursday she may not have been a good bookkeeper, but she never intended any malfeasance and was a dedicated public servant who truly loved animals and children in her three decades running the zoo.

An audit and investigation of the Spring River Zoo found $9,449 in cash and checks were recovered from Mayfield’s office, according to personnel records obtained by the Daily Record.The funds included $961 in cash and nearly $8,500 in checks, $6,438 of which were payable to the Friends of the Zoo, documents indicate.

The city’s Finance Department initiated an investigation on Sept. 12, lasting through Sept. 15, after city administrators reported the alleged misconduct involving the mishandling of funds at the zoo.


Murder defendant acquitted

A three-and-half day jury trial ended in the acquittal of Gilbert Lucero of Roswell. Lucero had been charged for the brutal murder of auto mechanic Isaiah Estalano Blue Sanchez more than two years ago.

After deliberating for more than an hour, the jurors found Lucero, 34, not guilty on four criminal counts: murder, conspiracy to commit murder, armed robbery and tampering with evidence. Closing arguments in the case occurred Friday morning in Judge James Hudson’s court in the Fifth Judicial District Court in Roswell.

Jurors also had the option of finding Lucero guilty of lesser charges, such as second-degree murder, on some counts. Had he been found guilty of felony murder, he was facing the possibility of life imprisonment. He had been in jail since his arrest on the murder in October 2014.

Lucero’s younger brother, Steven Lee Lucero, 32, was found guilty in July of felony murder in the same crime that involved multiple stab wounds and blunt object trauma to Sanchez, whom family members have described as a hard-working and kind man.

Tom Burris resigns

A mere nine days after school board elections, Superintendent Tom Burris resigned with more than a year left on his contract and will be on paid administrative leave until his effective June 30 resignation date.

At a special meeting of the Roswell Independent School District Board of Education Thursday night, board members came out of an hour-long executive session with district lawyers and announced to a packed room of about 60 people, primarily school district employees, that they would vote on Burris’ resignation, his paid administrative leave effective Feb. 16 through June 30, and the appointment of Susan Sanchez as acting superintendent.

Hired in July 2012, Burris had a current three-year contract that was due to run through the end of the 2018 academic year. He was paid $149,907 a year as the top administrator of a district with about 10,300 students, 21 schools and 1,200 employees, including 600 licensed personnel.


Veteran painted by Bush

An Iraq war veteran from Roswell seriously injured in Baghdad and his daughter are among those depicted in a new group of portraits of wounded veterans painted by former president George W. Bush.

The portrait of Scott Lilley and his daughter, 5-year-old MiKaylie, are among Bush paintings that went on display Thursday at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University near Dallas.

The exhibit, which includes among a four-panel mural of military members wounded after 9/11, is open until Oct. 1.

“I didn’t know he painted,” Lilley told the Daily Record from San Antonio Thursday during a conference call with his mother. “I thought it was awesome. I think he’s a great painter. I was very surprised how well it came out.”

Bush said he has come to personally know the military members whom he painted in 66 full-color portraits also published in a new book, “Portraits of Courage.”


Joe Neeb hired

The Roswell City Council voted unanimously Friday to hire Joe Neeb, the mayor’s nominee for city manager, ending a nearly year-long search for a permanent city manager to oversee the city’s 600-position workforce and many departments.

Neeb oversees day-to-day management of the city and its $117 million annual budget on April 17 at an annual salary of $154,190. Neeb’s contract with the city does not have a termination date. He received $15,000 to relocate and a $300 monthly car allowance.

Neeb has 20 years of experience as a chief administrative officer for four other municipalities. He was most recently the city administrator of Spearfish, South Dakota, where he served from September 2010 until his resignation in mid-February.


Hailstorm hits Roswell

Insurance companies across Roswell were scrambling Wednesday after being flooded with hundreds of calls following Tuesday night’s hailstorm.

Lisa Lassa, a licensed agent with an Allstate Insurance branch in Roswell, said Wednesday they had over 100 calls — and that was before 1 p.m.

“Our heads are spinning in this agency right now,” she said.

Lassa said they had customers sustain body damages to their vehicles and some windshields were even shattered. She added some campers were also damaged by the hail.

Farm Bureau Financial Services also received numerous calls Wednesday that concerned damages from the storm.

“It seems like we’ve had pretty much calls in all ends of town, and the southern part of town seems to have gotten it the worst,” said Caleb Grant, an agent with the company.

Grant said some windshields were cracked from the hail. There were also claims of damaged windows, skylights and roofs of homes.

Farm Bureau plans to have storm adjusters in town within the next week to access damages and is also planning to set up a drive-thru tent by Monday, Grant said.


Teacher killed

A Roswell teacher killed in early March suffered a brutal death, an autopsy indicates.

Maria Elena Tilton Aragon, 49, considered by family and friends to be a caring and compassionate person, an involved church member and a devoted educator, was beaten, stabbed and strangled, according to the official report by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.

According to the autopsy report issued May 16, medical examiners concluded that Aragon had sustained injuries “over a period of time” and said that head injuries showed signs that were “indicative” of having been sustained 24 hours prior to death.

In addition to being struck in the head, Aragon was stabbed several times, including twice in the chest, and was strangled. The report concludes that the strangulation most likely occurred by hand.

Aragon had been found off the side of the U.S. Highway 285 near Vaughn in De Baca County March 6, a Monday morning. She had been reported missing by her husband, Castulo Aragon Jr., about 11:30 p.m. March 5.

The husband said during an interview at his home following the second search that he knew of no reason why Aragon would have been in the Vaughan area that day. He talked of his love for his wife, saying that they had planned a first-anniversary trip to Cancun, Mexico, for April.


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